For all the importance the Lakers’ Summer League team will have on developing their youth, there marks one other looming variable that will determine the team’s success or failure in the 2015-16 campaign.
His resume speaks for itself with his five NBA championships and third-place standing on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. But Bryant also has suffered three season-ending injuries in consecutive seasons, the latest involving a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder that required surgery.
So when Summer League play ends on July 20, Lakers coach Byron Scott said he, Bryant, head athletic trainer Gary Vitti and strength and conditioning coach Tim DiFrancesco will discuss at some point how to handle their star player’s practice regimen and playing time. Scott estimated that meeting will take place within three to four weeks.
“One thing I want to do is make sure he is able to play this whole year hopefully injury free,” Scott said after summer league practice on Thursday at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. “I don’t want to overload him with minutes. I don’t want to overload him here in practice as well. But I want him to get all those things in so he can stay sharp. It’s a fine line on how to do that.”
Shortly before and after Bryant injured his right shoulder in late January, Scott faulted himself for playing him 30 and 40 minutes through 27 games as well as exceeding the 40-minute limit in three of those contests. Bryant then rested eight of the next 16 contests before injuring his shoulder. The Lakers have downplayed Scott’s role in Bryant’s injury. But the Lakers believe a more conservative approach will ensure Bryant fares better than when he averaged 22.3 points on a career-low 37.3 percent clip in 36.4 minutes through 35 games.
Scott has said he hopes to play Bryant in the mid 20-minute range and rest him on back-to-back games, but Scott made those comments without knowing how the Lakers would assemble their roster. Though a backcourt featuring D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarksom and Lou Williams could reduce Bryant’s workload, Scott said he has not talked specifics yet with Bryant.
“It’s going to work out great. Both of those kids are very energetic,” Scott said about Russell and Clarkson playing with Bryant. “They want to learn. They want to be great and to have Kobe as their mentor and teach them the ropes as well. Just for him to be on the floor with those guys will help them tremendously. I’m looking forward to it.”
Scott estimated that Bryant will not begin shooting for another month and that he has yet to progress to any upper body weight training. He described Bryant’s range of motion as “great. And Scott called Bryant’s training “old school,” which has entailed lower body exercises including squats, lunges and leg presses. Yet, the Lakers do not have a formal timetable on Bryant’s progression beyond expecting him to be fully healthy for the 2015-16 season.